Disaster Volunteering and Preparedness

The mission of the California Volunteers Disaster Volunteering and Preparedness (DVP) Department is to support local city and county government while they utilize volunteer and donations during times of disaster. California Volunteers staff responds as a direct service provider in the field, assisting with volunteer and donations management, as well as serving as the Lead in the Volunteer and Donations Unit in the state or local Emergency Operations Center (EOC). California Volunteers also provides recommendations and subject matter expertise to the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) associated with volunteer management, donations management, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) coordination.

California Volunteers is designated as the state lead for Volunteers and Donations Management as part of the State Emergency Plan (Emergency Function 17). A key role that California Volunteers can play in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is to support critical life-saving organizations such as Cal OES, the American Red Cross, and service-providing national and local nonprofit agencies in the affected areas. The focus of all these efforts is to ensure that people in dire need are connected with food, shelter, and support – and that people wishing to donate time, goods, and money can do so in an effective manner. California Volunteers can also play a critical role by building the capacity of local nonprofit groups to do what they need to do and tap the generosity of citizens from across the state and country as they fulfill their mission and assist major relief organizations.


Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT)


Following a major disaster, first responders who provide fire and medical services cannot always meet the substantially increased demand for their services. Factors such as number of victims, communication failures and road blockages can prevent people from immediately accessing emergency services through 9-1-1. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates individuals about disaster preparedness and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. CERT members give critical support to first responders, provide immediate assistance to affected individuals and organize volunteers at a disaster site. CERT members can also help with non-emergency projects that improve the safety of their community. The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. As a result, the LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens to assist in times of disaster.

If you are interested in starting a CERT in your area, please click here.


Medical Reserve Corps


The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) was created after 9/11 to organize the efforts of active and retired medical and mental health professionals who want to assist in disaster response and recovery. The MRC improves the health and safety of communities across the country by organizing and utilizing public health, medical and other volunteers. MRC units are community-based and function locally to organize and utilize volunteers who want to donate their time and expertise to prepare for and respond to emergencies and promote healthy living throughout the year. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, and epidemiologists. Many community members—interpreters, office workers, legal advisors, and others—fill key support positions. Individual communities develop their local MRC unit and identify volunteer duties. During times of emergency, and in conjunction with local officials and the Citizen Corps Council, the MRC unit will determine if and when the unit is activated. To locate a Medical Reserve Corps in you area, please click here.  


Neighborhood Watch


For over 30 years, Neighborhood Watch has made communities safer through getting local residents actively involved in patrolling their neighborhoods to report suspicious activity to law enforcement. Since 9/11, in addition to serving in a crime prevention role, Neighborhood Watch programs also engage residents in disaster preparedness, convene evacuation drills and exercises and organize group trainings, such as Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. To find a Neighborhood Watch program in your area, please click here.  


Volunteers in Police Service


Since September 11, 2001, the demands on state and local law enforcement have increased dramatically. As a result, the already limited resources of these agencies are being stretched further than ever. The Volunteers in Police Service Program (VIPS) draws on the time and considerable talents of civilian volunteers and allows law enforcement professionals to focus on their frontline duties.

Volunteer roles may include performing clerical tasks, serving as an extra set of “eyes and ears,” assisting with search and rescue activities, and writing citations for accessible parking violations.

The VIPS program also offers resources to local law enforcement agencies to successfully incorporate community volunteers into their activities. These resources include best practices to recruit, train and utilize VIPS volunteers.

To find a VIPS program in your area, please click here.